Thursday, November 29, 2007

Norman Mailer wins Bad Sex award

It has become probably the most 'fun' award in the industry -- it is far more fun looking forward to it than the Man Booker -- and I do look forward to reading the extracts each year.

Castle in the ForestNorman Mailer has been posthumously awarded this year's prize for this passage in his novel The Castle in the Forest: "So Klara turned head to foot and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth and took his old battering ram into her lips." Wow, talk about

Here is a selection I like (for others and ' more graphic versions' please visit The Guardian website:,,2217735,00.html

Will by Christopher Rush: O glorious pubes! The ultimate triangle, whose angles delve to hell but point to paradise. Let me sing the black banner, the blackbird's wing, the chink, the cleft, the keyhole in the door. The fig, the fanny, the cranny, the quim - I'd come close to it now, this sudden blush, this ancient avenue, the end of all odysseys and epic aim of life, pulling at my prick now, pulling like a lodestone.

Apples by Richard Milward: She had on no knickers, and my heart went crash-bang-wallop and my eyes popped out. She hadn't shaved, and her fanny looked like a tropical fish or a bit of old carpet.

Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart: Her vagina was all that, as they say in the urban media - a powerful ethnic muscle scented by bitter melon, the breezes of the local sea, and the sweaty needs of a tiny nation trying to breed itself into a future. Was it especially hairy? Good Lord, yes it was. Mountains of kinkiness black as the night above the Serengeti with paprika shoots at the edges - the pubic hair alone must have clocked in at half a kilo, while providing the inspiration for two discernible trails of hair, one running up to the navel, the other to the base of the

Boy Meets Girl by Ali Smith: Was that her tongue? Was that what they meant when they said flames had tongues? I was hard all right, and then I was sinew, I was a snake, I changed stone to snake in three simple moves, stoke stake snake, then I was a tree whose branches were all budded knots, and what were those felty buds, were they antlers? were antlers really growing out of both of us? was my whole front furring over? and were we the same pelt? were our hands black shining hoofs? were we kicking? were we bitten? We were blades, were a knife that could cut through myth, were two knives thrown by a magician, were arrows fired by a god, we hit heart, we hit home, we were the tail of a fish were the reek of a cat were the beak of a bird were the feather that mastered gravity were high above every landscape then down deep in the purple haze of the heather were roamin in a gloamin in a brash unending Scottish piece of perfect jigging reeling reel can we really keep this up?

Tokyo bookselling

Kanda book districtFrom Asahi Shimbun. According to the report, Tokyo's Kanda-Jinbocho district, an area in the middle of Tokyo full of old shops (some over 125 years old) and narrow alleys, and for Japanese bibliophiles a veritable holy land, is in trouble.Measured by the number of businesses operating there it isn't bad, but in terms of sales it is low. And the problem: Japanese do more talking and texting these days than they do reading. A generation ago they spent their extra cash on novels; now it goes to pay the phone bills.

Another complaint: These days, there aren't many titles that you can't get through your local big-box bookstore or by searching through Amazon's virtual catalogue.

Kanda has now become a tourist destination with an increased 'stroller' traffic, but with the
inevitable increase in business opportunities others are moving in. Kanda has now become a tourist destination. Gesturing with his thumb towards the recently opened noodle shop next door, one owner says, "We have nothing personal against them, but their gaudy advertising doesn't really go very well with the look of the neighbourhood ... (and) no one wants to smell food when they're browsing for books."

Though others have come in to occupy the prime locations, 30 new bookshops have also moved in, but mostly on the first and second floors and on the back alleys because ground floor units are out of reach for them. The new stores target collectors of anime, manga, children's books and various subculture literatures. And many are internet merchants.

Scoffs an old timer, "Young people prefer visual things that are easier to understand ... (they) see a book as more of a decorative element than reading material." And adds, "They don't see how much they're racking up every month on telephone charges. But with a book you know exactly how much it will cost you -- the price is on the cover.''


Full story:

Publishers mine book groups

KiteRunnerLooks like there is a new book force in town and whether it is good or bad is entirely a matter of opinion.

Given the success of books 'discovered' by book clubs like The Kite Runner (which, though well written, has been described by some people as Hollywood-ish (see latest issue of Time Magazine -,9171,1622583,00.html), and written by someone who does not live in the country he writes about) major publishing houses are looking towards book reading clubs to reveal their next big hit.

Never before have a group of eight to ten (mainly) women sitting around a table discussing a book have held so much power. Ms Esther Bushell, a former English teacher from Old Greenwich, Conn, must be a powerful lady indeed. She leads ten book groups. And she began as a reading group coordinator only five years ago.

According to thee report, film companies are trying to get in on the act as well. Russell Perreault, director of publicity at Vintage Books says, "They're asking us how to get clubs to read books before the movie version comes out." Copies of Evening, Reservation Road and Atonement, all Vintage titles adapted for the big screen.

This was what was traditionally known as word-of-mouth marketing. (Or auntie power. Uncles are normally quite useless at this.)

Full story:

In brief

Taslima Nazreen on the run again

Taslima NazreenBangladeshi feminist writer Taslima Nasreen has been flown out of the Indian city of Calcutta after violent protests by Muslims, calling for her Indian visa to be canceled.

Rioters blocked roads and set cars alight. At least 43 people were hurt. More than 100 arrests were made. Critics say she called for the Koran to be changed to give women greater rights, which she denies. Ms Nasreen fled Bangladesh in the early 1990s after death threats and has spent the last three years in Calcutta after an initial stay in Europe.

Kremlin lament’s growing contempt for literature

The former Soviet Union was once the best-read country in the world, but modern post-communist Russians prefer trashy reality TV and glossy magazines.

This lack of reading has even affected the bedtime story for children. In the 1970s, 80% of parents read aloud to their children. Today the figure is 7%.

Independent publishers rule

According to Alison Walsh of the Irish Independent, Indie publishers are giving the big boys a run for their money. Since they cannot match the financial muscle of the big publishers they are getting books from elsewhere, bypassing the 'gate keepers' (the literary agents?)

Andrew Franklin, publisher at Profile Books, who has had two of the biggest hits of the past few years, Eats, Shoots and Leaves and Why Don't Penguins Feet Freeze? says: "Independent publishers look at things mainstream publishers wouldn't publish. They make some difference to what is being published, but secondly, they publish in a different way: they can be more experimental in how they publish and the audiences they try to reach, just because they are not part of a great big machine that churns out 1,000 books a year."

And one of the biggest successes in recent years has been fiction in translation such as Carlos Ruiz Zafon's In the Shadow of the Wind. Others are like The Life of Pi (two million copies) and The Tenderness of Wolves.

Not bad, yah?

Full story:

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bestseller in Vietnam

Vietnamese best sellerFrom the Korean Times. Vietnamese writer Nguyen Ngoc Tu is only 31 years old and has taken Vietnam by storm by selling 80,000 copies of her latest novel The Endless Fields.

The Endless Fields received Vietnam's most prestigious literary prize, the Vietnam Writers' Association award for fiction in 2006, has been translated and published in Korea. 'In the book, she steps away from Vietnam's routine subject of war, and touches on the life of people living in the poverty-stricken countryside of Vietnam.'

'Although the wounds of war remain, I wanted to move on and write about a new subject. Still, although war may not appear directly, its
presence is no doubt felt throughout this story as well,'' Nguyen is reported to have said.

Upon its release in Vietnam the report says, 'At one point, criticism towards the novel was so harsh that it lead to Nguyen being summoned to the ideological education committee in Ca Mau Province for self-criticism ...'

For her next project, 'Nguyen ... plans on writing a novel related to the rising number of inter-racial marriages involving young Vietnamese women.'

'There's no problem with intercultural marriages based on love, but when it is something that is purchased on conditions other than love, that is saddening. I definitely want to write on this,'' she said.

The author has only attended school up to the 10th grade, growing up in a poor household, but enjoys reading. 'Literature is not something that you are taught, but it can be picked up by reading many books ...'

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

NEWS: Don't read, fake it

HaventReadI know of someone who carries a book around to impress chicks. All he does is leave the book on his table, with the right facing side up, while he has his teh tarik -- talk about coffee-table books. The trick is to keep the stains away, he covers all his books in plastic. But then, he also reads.

Now, if only we could eliminate the reading bit. Jay McInery writes about a brand new book in the NY Times. (You have to register with NYT to read this story but it is free.)

A new book, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, is now on the best-seller lists in France, a country where books are still regarded as sacred objects and where, as described by McInery, '... the writer occupies a social position somewhere between the priest and the rock star.' According to him the '... anti-intellectualism of the title seems more Anglo-Saxon than Gallic ...' and he quotes Oscar Wilde: I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so. (So is that where our anti-intellectualism comes from? We will blame the Brits for that one too. I have always wondered why French footballers look so much smarter than ... never mind.)

In reply to a question Pierre Baynard, the author has this to say: 'I know few areas of private life, with the exception of finance and sex, in which it's as difficult to obtain accurate information ...'

Bayard’s book says '... at times it seems like a tongue-in-cheek example of reader-response criticism, which emphasizes the reader's role in creating meaning. He wants to show us how much we lie about the way we read, to ourselves as well as to others, and to assuage our guilt about the way we actually read and talk about books ... (there) are many ways of relating to books that are not acknowledged in educated company, including skimming, skipping, forgetting and glancing at covers.'

This is one book we will be looking out for.

Meanwhile in the UK

From The Guardian Unlimited. A survey shows that '77% of UK readers revisit books they've enjoyed on first reading ... with 17% of readers polled claiming to have read a favourite book more than five times.'

And the reasons for re-reading: 59% return because they never tire of their favourite book, 34% find something new with each re-reading and 8% because they haven't read anything else as good.

Here is the top 20 revisited reads in the UK:

1. The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
2. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
3. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
4. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
6. 1984 by George Orwell
7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
8. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis
9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
10. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
11. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
12. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
13. Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews
14. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
15. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
16. The Bible
17. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
18. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
19. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
20. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

And in the US

Recent figures in the US suggest that the average reader tackles only four books a year, with 25% confessing to reading nothing at all.

This and that

iTunes university

iTunes now offers free knowledge from top universities in the US -- including MIT, Sanford, Berkeley -- and it is all free. (I listened to one lecture on d-i-y typography design. I noticed that there is also something on creative writing in there.) The site, which was launched with 16 institutions earlier this year has had video and audio content from it downloaded more than 4 million times.

An iTunes report says: 'Already, more than half of the nation's top 500 schools use it to distribute their digital content to students -- or to the world.'

Check it out now. (iTunes is a free download for both Macs and PCs.)

No more wait for paperback?

It is not uncommon for readers in this country to 'wait for the paperback' given the outrageous prices (given our weak currency). Of course, there is the so-called trade-back or C-format (hardback size with a soft cover) released for us poor cousins but while it is easy to read it still costs in the region of RM70.00 -- steep for most readers.

This news from Picador to launch new fiction in both hardback and paperback is most welcome. It is apparently being done to combat the ailing market for hardback literary fiction. (Read about the sales figures for this year’s Man Booker shortlist.) But do not hold your breath yet -- book distributors in this country are not the brightest in the world. (They don’t read.) Remember how long it took The Harmony Silk Factory to hit our shores, and that too in that grotty A-format? Pan Macmillan says they will release high-end hardback and B-format paperback editions simultaneously from next year.

Webster's Word of the Year

For 2007, Webster's New World College Dictionary has chosen "grass station" as its Word of the Year. It is play on the word 'gas station' (Americans call petrol, gas remember). So this is a grass station -- one that dispenses ethanol and biomass fuels, some of which are distilled from actual grass.

Apparently this term is 'so sizzlin' hot it has already appeared ... (in) The New York Times.'

The report also says this 'doesn't mean grass station will show up in Webster's anytime soon.' It will probably appear in Oxford first. In 2006, Webster's Word of the Year was 'crackberry'.

Library books 126 years late

A Guardian Unlimited report says that 'Chile has returned 3,778 books that its military had taken from Peru's national library -- more than 126 years overdue'. According to the report these were books pillaged by Chilean soldiers in 1881 after the capture of Lima during the 1870-1883 War of the Pacific. 'Chile shipped the books, most in excellent condition, to Peru this week via DHL, where they'll be returned to Lima's national library.'

Wahhh!!! Educated soldiers! Others sack and loot. Chilean soldiers borrow books and return them. (Never mind about being late, let's not get picky).

Author's murder conviction upheld

The Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction of novelist Michael Peterson, who is serving life in prison for killing his wife, Kathleen, whose body was found at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's home in 2001.

Peterson had argued in his appeal that evidence was improperly obtained from his computer, and also that the judge had made a mistake by admitting evidence about the 1985 death of a Peterson family friend in Germany.

Peterson's novels include the 1990 novel about the Vietnam War, A Time of War, and a 1995 sequel, A Bitter Peace.

First Man Asian literary prize goes to Chinese writer

Chinese author Jiang Rong has won first the US$10,000 Man Asian Literary Prize for his novel Wolf Totem.

According to the judges, 'Jiang's book, set on the desolate grasslands of inner Mongolia, tells the tale of nomads and settlers and their (relationship) with wolves during China's tumultuous Cultural Revolution, exploring man's place in nature.' Jiang says he spent 30 years thinking, and 6 years writing Wolf Totem.

Funny though, that one. Wasn't Mongolia one of the countries excluded from the first Man Asia Literary Prize?

mailerNorman Mailer dies

I have to confess that I avoided reading Norman Mailer probably because I read The Naked and the Dead when I was still in school, and was probably put off by its density. (I guess one should never read some novels when one is too young for it, like Dostoeyvsky for example) I did read a couple more after that though, The Fight being one and another was an anti feminist rant. I thought he took himself too seriously. I infinitely preferred the filppant charm of Gore Vidal.

Anyway, Norman Mailer, the author of 30 books -- including The Castle in the Forest published this year -- died of renal failure at the age of 84 on the 10th of November 2007.

Norman Kingsley -- or Nachem Malek in Hebrew -- was born in New Jersey on January 31, 1923. His father, Isaac Barnett, was a South African emigre but the dominant figure in the family was said to be his mother, Fanny Schneider, who came from Long Branch, where her father was the town's unofficial rabbi.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Manga Shakespeare

Romeo and JulietThis caught my attention in a Wired Magazine report. British publisher, Self Made Hero, is bringing out manga editions of several Shakespeare works, including Hamlet. And Danish prince lives in the year 2107 on an
Earth ravaged by global warming.

And in the article How Manga Conquered the U.S: a Graphic Guide to Japan's Coolest Export, Jason Thompson takes a five page look inside the 'manga industrial complex' in Japan. You want more? Wired's visual history of manga in America is a 1.9meg pdf download with the whole story told in the form of a manga, complete with right to left Japanese panel layout.

In short expect manga to be sweeping the world sooner rather than later. The report says 'manga sales in the US have tripled in the past four years ... with titles like Fruits Basket, Naruto, and Death Note, and in some bookstores 'the manga section is bigger than the science fiction collection.' Europe has, apparently, caught the bug, too. 'In the United Kingdom, the Catholic Church is using manga to recruit new priests’ and one British publisher 'has begun issuing manga versions of Shakespeare's plays, including a Romeo and Juliet that
re-imagines the Montagues and Capulets as rival yakuza families in Tokyo.' Wow! We must try and get hold of those.

But in Japan there is a feeling that the best days of the US$4.2 billion-a-year industry, which started in the shadow of its defeat in the second world war, have passed. Still, it is reported that the paperback editions of Bleach, from a series about a ghost-spotting teenager that ran in the Weekly Shonen Jump for six years, have sold some 46 million copies (in a country of 127 million people). And 'manga isn't just for freaks and geeks' the report says. 'Ride the Tokyo subway and you'll see greying salarymen, twenty-something hipsters, and schoolgirls all paging through a manga weekly or a graphic novel.'

We have seen some graphics novels, mostly from America, creeping into our bookstores in Kuala Lumpur. But these are still novelties and can be expensive. In Japan, manga ranges from those that come in the size of big-city phone-books printed on cheap newsprint to those on glossy art paper. 'They're teetering in messy piles at convenience stores, stacked in neat slabs at every subway station, and for sale just about anywhere someone might be inclined to pull a couple of hundred yen (US$2 to US$4) from their pocket ... The most popular series then get repackaged as paperback graphic novels.'

Full story:

October prizes

October is the month for giving out prizes. First there was Doris Lessingawarded the Nobel Prize for "that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire andvisionary power has subjected a divided civilization toscrutiny." Not bad for someone who did not finish high school (but read a lot).

Then there was the Man Booker, won by Anne Enright's The Gathering, few people's favourite book judging by sales of a little over 3000 copies (compared to over 100,000 copies to date of Ian McEwan's). And, after reading the reviews (an exhilarating bleakness?), it looks like sales are not likely to pick up even after the prize. A movie perhaps? A very non-Booker year, if ever there was one.

UnbearableMeanwhile, Milan Kundera has won the Czech Republic's State Award for Literature for the first domestic publication of his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Why is that news? Because Kundera, though born in Czechoslovakia in 1929, moved to France in 1975 and has been a French citizen since 1981. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the 1984 novel was first published in the Czech Republic only last year, and it topped the best-seller list for weeks. Anyway, Kundera wrote a letter to Culture Minister Vaclav Jehlicka expressing thanks for the award, which includes a US$15,700 prize. Kundera did not attend the awards ceremony due to unspecified health problems.

And in NewYork, a goat farmer, a boxing fan and an Iranian-born novelist havewon Whiting Writers' Awards, prizes worth $50,000 each, for 'emerging writers of exceptional talent and promise.' The Whiting awards were established in 1985 by the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation ‘dedicated to the support of the humanities and of creative writing.

Judges and critics decided the winners of all the prizes above. Here is one decided by public vote: Nora Roberts won book of the year at the third annual Quill Awards. "Romance rocks," Roberts was reported to have told the crowd after accepting her award, which was voted online by the public, for her romance/thriller novel Angels Fall. Whatever.

Sex writer sues porn star

Violet BlueThey are both called Violet Blue, except that one is a writer and the other is a porn star. Journalist Violet Blue is (apparently) a well-known sex and sexuality writer and blogger (amongst the 25 most influential people on the web according to Forbes, and an author who has written 15 books, ranging from Best Women's Erotica 2008to the Ultimate Guide to Fellatio).

She has now filed suit this week against Violet Blue, a porn actress, for using Violet Blue as her stage name, alleging that Ada Mae Johnson adopted not only the writer's name, but also the distinctive black bangs for performances in films such as Shut Up and Blow Me #29, Whore of the Rings and Who Violet Blew.

(Writer) Violet Blue (her real name) has filed suit in a San Francisco federal court Monday, accusing Johnson of trademark violation, as well as unfair business practices. (You don't say.)

Elsewhere, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act is overly broad and violates the First Amendment. It has struck down a 1988 law requiring adult entertainment producers to keep records on their models and
performers. This makes life more difficult for the US Justice Department in its efforts against child porn, and websites hosting amateur user-produced porn.

Full story:

From the Frankfurt Book Fair

My friend Raj, who goes to Frankfurt every year, reported that this year's fair was the best one yet. This Frankfurt book love fest has been going on for 800 years (800 - you read that right) and is must visit according to him. He has been telling me that for a long time. But I am still not convinced enough to go, not until we have a decent list worth showing. Otherwise, malu lah. The last thing we need is condescension. 'You are quite good for a Malaysian writer' kind of shit, as some of our own reviewers are prone to say. We are either good or not good. Period.

Guardian Unlimited reports some highlights:

· Julia Franck has won the third German Book for her novel Die Mittagsfrau (Lady Midday), a 432-page historical novel set in Berlin between the two world wars. The work has been described by the judges as "spellbinding in its verbal immediacy, storytelling energy, and psychological intensity".

· German publishers and booksellers have launched their own German-language version of Google books, called Libreka! It is a full-text online book search database and currently covers 8,000 titles with a further 50,000 on the way.

· Bond actor Sir Roger Moore is to write his autobiography and the Frankfurt bidding opened at £1m.

·The story of one of Sudan's 'lost children' who has since become an international hip-hop star has attracted much interest. War Child, the tale of child soldier turned musician Emmanuel Jah, went to sealed bids.


Literary Podcast

Sam Tanenhaus is the editor of The New York Times Book Review. He who took over that job in April 2006, having worked for many years as a writer, reporter, and editor. He was a Pulitzer finalist in 1998 for his biography of Whittaker Chambers.

In his weekly podcasts, you can now listen to him talking to authors, editors and critics about new books. The files are in MP3 format, and instructions for subscribing to the weekly podcasts are are on the website.

Full story:

Outing Dumbledore

So JK Rowling has outed Dumbledore. Oh, come on, woman, Enough already. We know that it is hip to have gay characters in literature these days. But in all the seven books and several thousand pages you had, you did not mention (nor did you even hint) at any of the characters being gay. Why now? What's the problem? Your last book's not selling very well, or what? If ever there was a publicity stunt ... How low can you go?

Libraries spurn Google and Microsoft

New York Times reports that 'several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies.' They are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort.

The report says: 'Libraries that agree to work with Google (and Microsoft) must agree to a set of terms, which include making the material unavailable to other commercial search services ... The Open Content Alliance, by contrast, is making the material available to any search service.'